The Who: Denver, Colorado, February 12, 2013
February 12, 2013
The Who Pepsi Center, Denver, CO February 12, 2013
One of the greatest moments on record from the Classic Rock era is the stunning contrast between the first two songs on the Who's Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973). The first cut, "I Am the Sea" is dominated by sea sounds with some tinkling piano and a far-away horn here and there. Roger Daltrey introduces the album's four recurring themes at various intervals. The ocean sounds create a huge awe-inspiring soundscape. It's like standing on the beach with the infinite ocean stretching out in front and the infinite sky above. Nothing but space. Then Daltrey sings, "Can you see the real me, can ya? CAN YA?"
At that precise moment, "The Real Me" kicks in, instantly moving from vast sea and sky to an intimate studio surrounded by Keith Moon, John Entwistle and Pete Townsend, each about a foot and a half away, and they are rocking! Moon unleashes the power and fury of his drumming, which basically amounts to a perpetual solo. Entwistle is all over the neck of his bass and Townsend is cranking out power chords that were simply made for air guitar. If all this was coming out of a pretty good stereo, and that stereo happened to be, you know, turned up rather loud, it was nearly overwhelming. (And still is.)
Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center, the Who performed Quadrophenia in its entirety. And in order. In the large arena, it was a challenge to recreate the 180 degree change in ambience of those first two songs as one would hear on a home stereo, but it came close. The drumming, bass playing and power chords were all there. Broadcasting a distinct bass sound throughout a hockey stadium is notoriously difficult, but fortunately, the opening of "The Real Me" sounded good on the bottom end. That was partly because the instrumentation at that point was fairly spare, so the deep notes didn't get lost in the mix.
From there, the band worked its way through the rest of the double album. On vinyl, the music runs about 80 minutes. Tuesday night's version went for 90 minutes because the band stretched out on a few tunes. One of those extended parts was during "5:15," which featured a bass solo by the departed John Entwistle. The solo was recorded in his later years (judging from the grey hair) and was displayed on the giant and crisp video displays above the band. The sound was integrated into what the band was playing live on stage. Not long after that, the late Keith Moon appeared on the video screens and sang "Bell Boy," again fully integrated into what the band was performing on stage.
Quadrophenia was a rock opera which followed up on The Who's first rock opera, 1969's Tommy, only Quadrophenia is much better. The story line is about an alienated teenager experimenting with drugs, acting tough and getting into fights, getting kicked out of his parents' house and wondering why girls don't like him. He's worried he might have four personalities, hence the name Quadrophenia. (Four-channel stereo, known as "quadraphonic" was popular at the time and may have influenced the coining of the term "Quadrophenia.") The music is, at times, majestic with its soaring synthesizers and regal horns. Many other times, it's the Who at their hard-rocking best. The four main themes (one for each personality) pop up throughout the piece and a couple "overture" type tunes are included, giving a broad sweep to the entire production. Much of the music has the simmering anger of a surly teenager and Moon's drumming drives that point home effectively, and right between the eyes. The opera concludes on a more hopeful note with "Love Reign O'er Me."
Tuesday night, the band recreated it all. The Who has been depleted by death over the years. Keith Moon left the planet in 1978 and John Entwistle checked out in 2002. For the last several years, Moon's seat has been occupied by Zak Starkey, Ringo's boy. However, for Tuesday night's show, Starkey was replaced by Scott Davis. Townsend explained during a break that Starkey was down with tendonitis. Given the requirements of recreating Moon's drumming style, that's not surprising at all.
Davis was an extremely worthy substitute, pounding the drums incessantly for the entire two hours of the show. Entwistle's replacement has been, for some years now, Pino Palledino, who recreates Entwistle's style by standing completely still on stage yet constantly throwing down intricate bass lines. This is a rhythm section that is not and never have been mere time keepers. Pounding out the beat is, of course, part of their job, but the extent of the rhythmic and melodic counterpoint is far beyond almost every other rock band.